From America’s first newspaper classified in 1704 to today’s online postings, Strange Red Cow captures, in colorful detail, scenes of everyday life in the first-ever overview of the nation’s unofficial history text: the classified ads.
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Came to my plantation, in Springfield township,
Philadelphia county, near Flour-town, the 26th of March
1776, A STRANGE RED COW. The owner may have her again, on
proving his property, and paying charges. PHILIP MILLER. —
May 1, 1776, The Pennsylvania Gazette
To sift through classifieds from any era is to uncover the
practical needs or urgent desires of a community during a
particular period of time. By definition, the classified
advertisement is released for public consumption, yet often
it tells a very private story: a precious keepsake
misplaced, an intimate relationship sought, even a young
child kidnapped. At times shocking, often amusing, and
always enlightening, these brief notices offer rare
glimpses into who we are, what we value, and where we’re
going. And yet they have always been the most ephemeral of
artifacts, tossed and forgotten without a second thought.
While researching a historical documentary, Sara Bader
stumbled upon something that transported her back in time:
an eighteenth-century classified ad about a lost red cow.
Authentic and evocative, this discovery inspired a search
for more of these vivid scenes from everyday life, past and
present. In Strange Red Cow, Bader presents a sampling of
ads from as far back as 1704 up through contemporary
Internet postings, sorted and assembled thematically. She
places these micro messages in a broader context, revealing
intimate stories of American history and popular culture.
By turns humorous, heartbreaking, and insightful, Strange
Red Cow offers a new lens through which to observe our
evolution as a nation and a people.
From America’s first newspaper classified in 1704 to
today’s online postings, Strange Red Cow captures, in
colorful detail, scenes of everyday life in the first-ever
overview of the nation’s unofficial history text: the
“If we strain to identify with those who commuted in horse-
drawn carriages and depended on candles to light their
corridors, these ads can personally introduce us. They had
good days and bad days; they got distracted, disorganized,
and like us, left important things be-hind. That our
collective ancestors forgot their books in carriages, left
their capes on battlefields, and dropped their keys and
their cash is oddly reassuring. We are still losing our
stuff today, though what we own and wear and carry with us—
and what we decide to return and retrieve—inevitably
changes over time.” —From Strange Red Cow
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